A piece of Cape Town’s history has gone up for sale this week as the first public telescope placed on Table Mountain in 1930 is listed on Gumtree.co.za.
The telescope was purchased in 1991 by UCT employee Julian Meyer, a collector of telescopes, from the Chief Technical Officer for a brass scrap price. At the time, the telescope had fallen out of use as its objective lens was badly cracked and the prisms were chipped.
However, this does not mean that the telescope has lost any of its historical value. “This is obviously a very, very rare piece and would be an amazing restoration project or an extremely valuable collectible for display. Some very important people looked through this telescope during the years it was on the mountain,” says Meyer.
The telescope was mounted for public viewing next to the upper cable station in 1930, just after the opening of the cable car. Some of the illustrious visitors who may have peered through its lenses include the Royal Family during their 1947 South African tour – where they were greeted by the 77-year old Prime Minister Jan Smuts, who not only hiked to the top of the Mountain to meet them but arrived back in town in time for a joint sitting of the houses of Parliament.
Meyer was able to confirm the telescope’s authenticity via the South African Astronomical Observatory. He also unearthed from online archives a picture of it in place on the mountain. A former Zeiss employee, visiting Cape Town from the USA, was able to provide the exact manufacture date and sent Meyer the original token used to test the timing mechanism which takes the place of the coins which the public used to pay for their spectacular view of the city and the ocean.
After spending trying to get the telescope refurbished by the now defunct S.A Navy Optical Workshop and by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company as a possible public exhibit, Meyer finally reluctantly put the precious telescope up for sale. ”I hope whoever buys it will have better luck than I did in getting this wonderful telescope back into working condition”.
The ad has received well over 2000 views. Buyers can view it on Gumtree.